How to Get Girls into Secondary School and Keep Them There

Two new discussion papers by the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative and the Global Partnership for Education

By: Koli Banik (GPE) and Nora Fyles (UNGEI)


Many government officials in countries all over the world ask, “What works to get and keep girls in school and to transition to secondary?” Many developing countries have identified promising strategies but challenges remain to ensure girls successfully complete primary school and transition to secondary in a safe and supportive learning environment . This is especially important as we shift our focus from the completion of primary school to continuing on to secondary school and beyond. Particularly for girls – and especially poor, rural girls — here is a significant gender gap in secondary enrollment as confirmed in the 2013/14 GMR Gender Summary.

Two New Papers in Girls’ Secondary Education
Addressing this issue, the GPE Secretariat, in partnership with the Secretariat of the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), produced two short papers as part of UNGEI’s Working Paper Series: Accelerating Secondary Education for Girls: Focusing on Access and Retention and Cash Transfer Programs for Gender Equality in Girls’ Secondary Education.

The first paper, Accelerating Secondary Education for Girls, highlights the importance of secondary education as an engine for economic growth and points out common barriers to girls’ secondary education: school fees, lack of sanitation facilities, gender based violence, distance, lack of female teachers, poverty, and cultural issues.

The paper also introduces the “gender premium” in education explaining how secondary school completion for girls brings higher lifetime earnings, decreases in fertility and mortality rates, delays in marriage, and an increase in decision making, self-confidence, and empowerment.

The paper lays out five important strategies to promote access to and completion of girls’ secondary education: (1) safe distance to schools, (2) latrines with menstrual hygiene management, (3) safe and secure school routes, (4) female teachers, and (5) relevant curriculum which reflect employment in the labor market.

The second paper, Cash Transfer Programs for Gender Equality in Girls’ Secondary Education, examines the use of conditional cash transfers (CCT) and unconditional cash transfers (UCT) in successful schemes in Latin America, Sub Saharan Africa and Asia. These programs have been successful in ensuring girls stay in school, delay the age of marriage, and successfully complete secondary school.

Cash transfer programs in many countries, the paper argues, have a positive impact on girls’ enrollment and continuation in school.

CCTs provide cash assistance to underwrite the cost of schooling and to compensate parents and caregivers for the opportunity costs so girls stay in schools. A Mexican program called, PROGRESA, for example, addresses high dropout rates of girls by providing families with cash if the send their daughters to school. Unconditional cash transfers increase household incomes and provide a social safety net for the poorest population. Evidence from Africa indicates that increased income often translates into more children going to school, especially girls at the secondary level.

Let us hear from you!
Have a look at the two papers and let us know what your experiences have been? We are interested to hear from our blog readers what works for girls’ education in your countries? Send in a comment or connect with us via Facebook or Twitter.

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